Addressing Female Development in Treatment

Female Psychology and the Study of Difference

When creating or evaluating juvenile justice programs designed for young women, it is critical to begin with an understanding of female development and the specific issues that young women bring into the treatment setting. It is not enough for practitioners to provide services similar to ones provided to young men. It is also not enough for services to focus simply on traditional techniques for meeting the needs of young offenders. Young women present unique treatment issues that stem from their own processes of growing up and developing, and programs and services must reflect an understanding of these issues in order to be effective.

A discussion of the development needs of young women and how these needs are reflected in programming must take into consideration four basic assumptions (Maniglia 1996).

  1. Good Gender-Specific Services Begin with Good Services

    In order for a program to serve the needs of young women effectively, it must first have as its base solid programming techniques. Poor programming will never become good gender-specific programming simply by adding specific components designed to serve the unique needs of young women. Effective programs share many basics whoever their clientele may be. For instance, it is essential to have a well-trained and competent staff that is involved with and knowledgeable about the youth in the program. Programs should have effective and ongoing evaluation mechanisms and focus on well-thought-out treatment approaches that have some basis in current adolescent development theory. In addition, they must use sensitive assessment techniques that take into consideration not only offense history but also issues of gender development. Programs must present youth with an atmosphere of highly structured activities with specific treatment goals. If these basics are in place, then a program can begin to address specific treatment components that may be affected by the gender of the clientele.

  2. Young Women Are Differnet from Young Men

    Psychological research continues to confirm that while there are similarities between the genders, there are also issues unique to the process of development in young women. Also, juvenile justice research reflects young women's patterns of offending, which are often different in scope and motivation from those of their male counterparts. Therefore, service providers must take these differences into account when designing specific components for treatment programs. The result of such consideration is sometimes substantially new and different approaches to traditional treatment modalities and sometimes only slight adaptations in content or approach.

  3. Equality Does Not Equal Sameness

    In juvenile justice programming, equality of service delivery is not simply about allowing young women access to services traditionally reserved for young men. In fact, this falls far short of what is necessary. Young men and women must have sameness only in terms of the most basic requirements. For instance, equality might be reflected as sameness in the quality of line and administrative staff, in financial support of programming, and in the quality of physical structures. In the particulars of treatment, however, equality must be redefined to mean providing opportunities that mean the same to each gender. In this way, treatment services, while equal in quality, may appear very different depending on to who is receiving the service. When equality is redefined in this manner, it not only allows for the understanding of developmental differences but also legitimizes them as valuable indicators of the type of programming necessary.

  4. Services for Young Women Cannot Be Viewed iin Isolation

    It has been said that "girls need to see their lives as a metaphor for the roles and experiences of women in the culture" (Pipher 1994). In other words, the specific needs presented by young women in juvenile justice treatment are very often issues that have their basis in society's expectations of both girls and women. Therefore, part of effective juvenile justice treatment programming for young women is to recognize the connection between women's role in society and societal barriers to women's growth and development and the specific issues that need to be addressed in the treatment environment. However, recognition is not enough. Staff must learn to make young women aware of this connection so that they recognize their own treatment issues as being related to larger societal issues. When this is done effectively, it results in juvenile justice treatment that operates on three levels: a level of individual change for the young woman in the program, a level of relational change between that young woman and those key individuals in her life, and a level of community change in which the young woman learns how to become an advocate for other young women with similar problems or needs (Maniglia and Albrecht 1995).

    In order to develop programming that is gender-specific -- that is, which takes into consideration the unique development needs of young women -- service providers must be aware of these development issues and understand their specific implications for service delivery. In general terms, when developing a program for young women, the essential components must include meeting the unique needs of females, valuing the female perspective, honoring the female experience, celebrating the contributions of girls and women, and respecting female development. The goal is to empower girls and young women to reach their full human potential and to work toward changing established attitudes that prevent or discourage girls and young women from recognizing their potential (Cheltenham 1993, p. 11).

    Gender-specific programming must also provide services designed to intervene comprehensively in a young woman's life. In their report How Schools Shortchange Girls, the American Association of University Women and the National Education Association provide criteria for gender-fair curricula. These same standards can easily be applied to gender-specific programs and service delivery systems. To be appropriate for young women, these services should acknowledge and affirm similarities and differences among and within groups of people; be inclusive, allowing females and males to find and identify positively with the messages and expectations themselves; be designed around statistical data and developmental research that is verifiable and able to withstand critical analysis; be affirmative, acknowledging and valuing the worth of individuals, no matter what their backgrounds or offense histories; be representative in staff and approach, balancing multiple perspectives including those of race, gender, and ethnic background, and emphasizing staff training at all levels; and be integrated, weaving together the experiences, needs, and interests of both males and females in ways that serve each most effectively and appropriately (AAUW 1992, p. 64).

    Beyond these general principles, it is critical to recognize the specific development issues research has identified as being critical for young women. Each of these issues has specific implications for the development of appropriate programming.

    Juvenile Female Offenders: A Status of the States Report October 1998